Surfside Beach leaders seek community input on pier reconstruction

Surfside Beach’s pier committee distributed a survey April 18 to get feedback from locals on what they would like to see on the reconstructed pier.  

Robert Blomquist, Surfside Beach’s public information officer, said the town received around 900 responses, with half of them identifying as town residents. Blomquist said the town is focusing on community feedback, and the community has shown interest in the project.  

“Community feedback is good,” Blomquist said. “There are people that go down there regularly that sit and kind of just watch the construction of the pier. People enjoy it. They find it interesting to watch and see it progress.” 

He said the survey was conducted over the course of seven days and closed Sunday, April 24. Blomquist said the survey asked respondents to select features they deemed important to the pier. He said that the top three responses were multiple dining and food options, a family-friendly atmosphere, and live music and events.  

Leigh Ann Vallejo has visited the town since 2007 because her father owns a house there. She said she’s had a lot of positive memories visiting the pier with her family. She said the pier is a “peaceful place” for people to fish, families to gather, and everyone to enjoy the scenery. 

“I would personally like the Surfside pier to stay a quiet place,” she said. “Maybe add a restaurant or coffee shop.” 

Vallejo said she would prefer if the new pier offered Surfside residents free admission, which was not the case for the old pier.  

“I don’t like the fee, but I’m sure they had to do it for maintenance,” she said. “I would usually have four or five kids with me, so that would add up quickly.” 

Blomquist said the survey adressed admission fees. He said 57% of survey respondents said there should be no fees. Blomquist said the pier committee hopes to use this information to help them come up with ideas for the project. 

In addition to soliciting answers from residents, Blomquist said that the pier committee is also formed of residents who want to help the town with their expertise. The committee was established on Feb. 22, 2022.  

“A few months ago, the town thought to put together a committee of volunteers that are tasked with helping the town select what type of businesses the town will work with to have on the pier,” he said.  

Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Hellyer, said they put out an RFP, or a request for proposal document, for businesses to submit proposals to be on the pier.   

“We already have a signed lease for a restaurant that was a previous tenant,” he said.   

Blomquist added to this, saying that they have received proposals from 10 different businesses. Mayor Hellyer also said there were two businesses that were previously on the pier that were not returning, but he said that they were still welcome to. 

Hellyer said that the pier is a focal point of the community. He said that Surfside is the only municipality in South Carolina that owns a pier, whereas most others are privately owned. Because of this, Hellyer said everything they’re doing will be open and transparent. 

“We can’t make a decision without sharing with everybody,” he said. 

The town is not only working with residents for suggestions for the pier. After Hurricane Matthew destroyed the pier in 2016, Hellyer said FEMA has worked with them to help with repairs, giving them more than $9 million. He said this is covering more than half of the project’s expenses. Because of this, he said they’ve also had to follow regulations from FEMA, such as the pier having to be elevated above 20 feet. Hellyer said this height difference could create difficulty for fisherman trying to reel in fish.  

“There’s a lot of challenges, but we’ll work them out as we go along,” he said.  

As a potential solution, Hellyer said that they’ve thought about installing baskets for fisherman to pull fish up in. Along with this, he said the pier has also faced supply issues due to extenuating circumstances.  

“A lot of plants closed down when COVID came,” Hellyer said.  

He said that they planned for the pier to open on July 4, 2022, but that now it’s looking to be closer to late October. 

William Shanahan, the town administrator, said that current inflation issues have caused some difficulties as well. In addition to raising costs, he said that obtaining supplies has also become a slower process. 

“What you could get in three weeks might now take six months,” Shanahan said. “We have to make decisions pretty quickly.” 

Despite these challenges, Shanahan said the project has been manageable. 

“We’re still hoping to get it done on time,” he said. “Barring anything happening, we should have it ready in the next six months.” 

Shanahan reiterated the importance of the project, saying that it helps with economic development and attracting visitors.  

“I also understand the value of the pier to the town,” he said. “It will be a building block for the future of this town. “ 

Mayor Hellyer said that there are other possibilities that will come with the pier’s reconstruction. He said that prior to the hurricane, they used to close down the pier for Fourth of July and hold firework shows. Hellyer said those will work out better now that the new pier is made of concrete instead of wood. He said that things are looking good for the project and that he looks forward to its completion. 

“When we do open the pier, it’s going to be a grand opening,” Hellyer said. “It’s going to be a day of celebration.”